B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

Take Off to the South at Alto
by Ben West, 443rd Bomb Squadron

 

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Alto airstrip was far different in every way from the six parallel and longer strips we had at Decimo. The field had been built for fighters and was almost too short for medium bombers. It was crowded by the Mediterranean to the east and mountains to the north and west. To the south there was a high hill that made takeoffs in that direction in a B-26 loaded with 4,000 pounds of bombs unreal!

Getting off the ground and over that hill was like running a high hurdle race in your flying gear, including parachute. The Marauder was always a ground-loving bitch and trying to get airborne anywhere was precarious. But it was especially so taking off to the south at Alto.

After checking your engines you swung out on the runway when your turn came, making sure to save every foot of runway you could in lining up on the strip and setting your brakes. You glanced back at your short wings and wondered if old man Martin ever flew her. You advanced your throttles untill the ship vibrated impatiently and then you let go the brakes and leaned forward. As you advanced the throttles to their limits you and the crew prayed that those big Pratt & Whitneys would be up to the task of overcoming gravity against the earthward pull of some 39,000 pounds just one more time!

It would seem forever before the air rushing over the wings would create enough lift to ease the weight on the landing gear. You would pass the halfway mark and the plane would still feel heavy, then it would lighten a bit and you'd pull up the nose wheel. The end of the steel-mat PSP runway would be coming up fast. You're fully committed no matter what happens. She would kind of bounce into the air clawing desperately to rise. Then she would lift off and you'd shout "wheels up" to the copilot.

You clear the hill one more time! The copilot raises the flap setting.

Even flak can't scare the hell out of you any more than the exciting experience of taking off to the south at Alto.


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